Honest Arrogance: Accepting and Rejecting This Limitation – by Claire Roberts

“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change” -Frank Lloyd Wright, Michigan Daily, 1998

After figuring out that my mother was a narcissist, I felt immediate peace. I had been surviving in a battle for so long. I was relieved to know that there was a real problem, an identifiable diagnosis, and a possible solution. However, since the weeks and months that have passed since my discovery, I still feel like I am back in the quagmire. Setting boundaries has been hard, but very effective. Knowing always what to do next doesn’t come so easy. But living with the limitations that will always be present is still very excruciating. I had hoped that the original diagnosis would be a panacea to the problem. Yet, there is still a void and many limitations on our relationship.

Again, the biggest problem that I am faced with is accepting the limitations of my mother, and frankly, myself. In asking the question of living with someone else’s limitations, don’t you have to fully and objectively audit yourself? Where are my blind spots?

“Processing or grieving is different than merely describing or telling your story. In order to grieve first you have to stop denying reality and begin accepting the truth.  Accept that your mother lacks the capacity to offer the love and nurturing you need” ( Dr. Stephanie King: Acceptance, The First Step Toward Healing for Children of Narcissitic Mothers, www.drstephaniekingpsy.com, July 19, 2016).

Is my mom secretly writing a blog about me? What am I good for? What am I especially good at? (Sorry, I know I am not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but it just sounds better).

I have learned that my mother’s specialty is criticism. Her power comes from domineering. She is kind, considerate, and compassionate, especially if someone is watching. She is horrible at listening.

“Often the narcissist parent will mock the child, as they are having feelings, or interrupt the child as they’re speaking, so the child never gets a word in edgewise, they can never feel heard, they can never feel seen” (Victoria Lorient-Fabish, Visualization Works Narcisstic Parent: Collateral Damage Aug 8, 2010 Moving Beyond the Childhood).

She is untrustworthy, and she uses guilt to manipulate. Yet, if you were to ever confront her, challenge her, or provoke her … watch out! That’s one beast I would rather not fight.

Now to me. What am I good at? I am good, or at least better, at listening than my mother. I consider trust to be the currency of any relationship. My worst fear is that someone would lose confidence in me or feel like I betrayed their trust. I feel that the only way to manipulate is really through persuasion and long suffering, constantly pointing out my counterpart’s agency and their free use of it. If I am offered criticism (constructive or otherwise) I try to really do my due diligence and see if there is truth to that person’s claim. I try to ask for feedback or for other’s opinions on how I can do better, or succeed faster. Sadly, I have found most people’s honest, frank evaluation of me to be less hurtful than my own mother’s. If service is rendered by me, I wish it to be secret, or anonymous, so that it can be accepted for merely what it is instead of other people’s perception of my service. I guess in honestly evaluating another’s weakness and limitations, I have to be willing to learn from their mistakes and avoid them at all costs. (Paraphrased by Brain Tracy, No Excuses: Relationship chapter).

One of the biggest turning points in accepting the limitations of a narcissistic mother is realizing that I will never receive nurturing from her in the way that I would like to have it. I do and can receive it from other family members and friends. But I will never receive it from my mom. This is both healing and hurtful. Since I can’t be truly nurtured from my own mother, I have realized that my own mother daughter interactions are really more like a quilt—patch-work to be exact. There are holes, rips, tears, and batting flying out of my motherhood blanket. I have done my best through the years to find the right pieces of eclectic mothering through pseudo mother mentors. Patching in the pieces, sewing memories, examples, and principles I would like to have one day with my own daughter.

Here are some of them:

Grace Kelly- Gosh I love her. Or at least what I think I know of her. She was always so glamorous and made everything so simple and yet elegant. She is quoted as saying that a dress should be short enough to show you’re a woman, but long enough to show you’re a lady. Where were you when I was growing up??? I really could have used your example of classiness and elegance. A true Lady. Or as my Scottish heritage would call her, “A Classy Lassie.”

My Best Friend-. She and I share so much. She is some sort of a genius, so I always depend on her for intellectual stimulus and great conversation. She provides an honest counterpoint to my most vexing issues. And she somehow knows when to be silent and listen. Most of the time, she somehow manages to do all of these traits simultaneously. It’s like she knows my mind, heart, soul, and spirit. She gives me confidence in every place where it is broken. She’s a real friend. Probably will never find one like her here or in the hereafter, she’s just that good.

The last professor I had in graduate school– He was truly a brilliant man. I am so thankful our paths crossed. He wrote on one of my papers that I should go to law school or pursue a PhD. I have saved that paper and memorized the scribbled note. He didn’t always agree with my work or my writing, but when and where I did something worthy, he praised it. Again, probably one of the first times I had a relationship with someone who was consistent and objective. If I gave him a crap paper, he’d call me out on it citing, “you can do much better.” Other times he said I should go to the next level, he even invited me into his seminar class with other doctorate students to present paper at a seminar. I hope someday I will get to make him proud with a law degree or a Phd. But for now, his words mean so much to me because of their authenticity and their honesty. It made it safe to revel in, and even enjoy praise when it came. I truly felt nurtured, praised, and like I made progress.

My 6th grade basketball coach– She happened to be my Latin teacher and I can still conjugate some Latin verbs, to this very day, due to her positive influence. The thing I most remember about her was she ran down the court, her infant in one arm, and she jumped up, caught the basketball with the other hand to complete a layup. I remember at the time thinking, WOW!!! Can I be you when I grow up? She taught me that it’s ok to be you, even through motherhood. And it’s ok to be both athletic and a woman, there should never be shame in being both. Her quote was always, “Confidence is the Key!” before any game you would find her shouting it.

Penny and Sonny Wren– These two are proof that guardian angels truly exist. They have offered to watch my kids (something my own mother detests) they have offered to help me, they have supported me, they have buoyed me up when I swear I about to go under. They have prayed for me, counseled me, and encouraged me. These people have no blood relation to me, and yet they have treated me with kindness I have never known. We became better friends through our mutual sorrows, and if that’s the only reason I was meant to have those sorrows, it has totally been worth it to have their friendship. I would pay that price any day to have them in my life in any form or association. They have helped me make a better quilt for myself, and they have not only patched up the holes, they are the very seams that run throughout.

All of these mentors and nurturers have helped me complete a better way for myself and my daughter to interact. They have shown me that is a better way. This new found hope has inspired me to do better than the pattern I was given. Hopefully I can be as honest with myself, as I had once wished my own mother could have been with herself.

‘Becoming The Fire’ by Claire Roberts

Claire Roberts Picture

“Some women fear the fire. Some women simply become it.”
R.H. Sin

(Dear Mom, If you ever read this, it is not me.)

After years of feeling inadequate, guilty, selfish, ugly, untalented, overlooked, and undistinguished, I gave in. Not into believing the lies, but in fully dedicating myself to defying those lies. I don’t remember when it started, I only know it has never ended. If I were to tell you that I had a narcissistic mother, you would never believe me, I didn’t even believe it at first, myself. She is running everyone’s lives, including mine, for a time. She is front and center of every Church duty, civic engagement. She is the “hostess with the mostess.” Her garden: sublime, her home: immaculate, her friends: near and dear and many look up to her respect her—except for me.

It’s hard to recognize a monster when that’s all you’ve ever known. It’s difficult to disassociate from pain that you’ve always believed to be true care and nurture. Psychology Today’s blog describes it accordingly, “Narcissistic mothers may tend to their daughter’s physical needs, but leave her {the daughter} emotionally bereft. The daughter doesn’t realize what’s missing, but longs for warmth and understanding from her mother that she may experience with friends or relatives or witness in other mother-daughter relationships” (Psychology Today Blog, Feb 19, 2018).

I know what she really is, and it’s taken upwards for three long decades for me to pinpoint the real problem. After years of trying to “reconcile” which basically means I was trying to repair the relationship by taking all the blame and responsibility, I still found I was very depressed, very angry, and mostly hurt by the one person in life for whom you should never have these types of feelings.

I hate people who always tell “their version” without so much as a glance or a concession to the other side. She is a good person. She has gone through much in life. I still respect her and honor her. But as a parent, as a mother, she should have and could have done better by me.

Focusing on moving forward rather than dwelling in the past, I’m trying to pinpoint specific lessons I’d like to pass down to my own daughter.

1) You are always beautiful to me;
2) You can always come to me and I will love you unconditionally;
3) There are few, if ever, things that are more important or come before my care and nurture of you;
4) On your darkest day, please consider me someone who is your best friend;
5) I will never force a confidence, if you confide in me, I will take it to the grave.

These are things I wish my own mom had done for me. To give me a better base of self-worth, and to also allow myself the dignity of enjoying my own hard won success, rather than having her jump-in to take credit.

Unfortunately, now that I know that there is a name for this sort of behavior, our relationship can’t possibly be the same again.

Most research on narcissists indicates they are almost incapable of change—one of the biggest reasons why it is difficult to associate and relate with them. Another factor includes the failure to empathize on the part of the narcissist. So as long as they are not changing, and we know their hallmark qualities, let’s explore how we can better interact with them as adult children.

Narcissists respond to respect and power. They do not care for people who are empathetic, caring, and willing.  “Parents with NPD are myopic. The world revolves around them. They control and manipulate their children’s needs, feelings, and choices when they can, and take it as a personal affront deserving punishment when they can’t” (Psychology Today Blog, Feb 19, 2018).

If you want to give a narcissist a wakeup call, try telling them “no” and offer no explanation. Or better yet, just don’t even tell them that you’re not coming to said meeting or family function. This will very surely get their attention.

Once a very definite line or boundary is set, it’s so much easier to be just as fake to them as they are to you. Is easy to be fake, phony, and at the very best, civil. Now you have just shown that you have:

1) power by not responding or offering explanations;
2) they will now have to respect you because you have asserted your power against them. In essence, fight fire with fire.  Or better yet, become it.

I did this with my own mom. I was supposed to be somewhere at a certain time and place. I am usually very acquiescent and try my best to be on her good side. Heaven knows after all these years, that doesn’t work! But just try not coming, no text, no phone call, blatantly showing you don’t care about her, her ideas, her projects, etc.

It sucked, it was really hard at first to set a boundary and I wasn’t even sure I had made things better… but then guess who is calling me every so often to make sure I’m okay? Guess who is more than happy to help me out from time to time? Guess who would come at the drop of a hat if I wanted her? Guess who is responding to my new found power? The narcissist mom has just met her match. I am happier, she hasn’t fundamentally changed, but I have.

The best news I had received in doing this research is that I am not alone, there is an identifiable problem, and there are so many resources to help guide children of narcissistic parents.

The thing about being the child of a narcissistic mother is that it often contributes to something known in Shamanic terminology as soul loss. Soul loss is the inability to contact or experience our souls due to the unresolved wounds, traumas and fears we’ve accumulated over the years. The first step in healing the soul loss is to be willing to explore what you went through as a child. This process of exploring the narcissistic actions of your parent isn’t to condemn them or to victimize yourself. Instead, this process is done to help you understand the root cause of any pain you’re still experiencing, to learn how to release it, and move on with your life (Mateo Sol- 19 signs You Were Raised By A Narcissistic Mother or Father).

In the spirit of not condemning my mother and not victimizing myself, I am starting the journey to recover my lost soul. I offer good wishes and congratulations to those out there who are doing the same.

Claire Roberts Signature

Claire Roberts

100_0653-18Claire and I have been friends for a few years. My husband and I call her our ‘Angel’ as she reached out to us on the anniversary of the death of my husband’s son. She was brave enough to talk to us about Lohr, something which very few people have done since he died. We understand the feelings of the majority of people who don’t talk to us about Lohr as people do find it hard to know how to behaviour and what to talk about in these situations. (For context, see ‘What He left Behind’).

So as an ‘Angel’, Claire came into our lives in a deeper and more intimate way. We have enjoyed getting to know Claire and her family. Claire is super intelligent, loves reading including philosophy, has a masters degree and gave up a highly demanding job in the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mum. She bought her first house at the age of twenty-three. Now that school is out for the twelve week summer break, Claire is spending time, not only doing some articles for Once Upon A Wren, but also doing topic based teaching with her children whilst they are out of school.

Claire was the first person that I shared my blog with the exception of Luke Martin-Jones who gave me the courage to start writing again in the first place. Her positive response and encouragement gave me the nerve to share my blog with my family and with some other friends.

In one of our conversations, I brought up the new information that my friend, Olivia Hayward, had stumbled across regarding being a daughter of a narcissistic mother. It turned out that Claire had stumbled across the information the very same week! After I had persuaded Olivia to write for me, I had the idea that I should convince Claire to write for me too. I’m so very excited that Claire agreed to write for Once Upon A Wren.

These two women show different reactions to being parented by a narcissistic mother and their abilities to deal with that dysfunctional relationship. It will be interesting to be a part of some of their healing process.

As this is a very sensitive subject, Claire also opted to have a pseudonym and like, Olivia, a symbolic representation for her picture.

Welcome to Once Upon A Wren, Claire! We look forward to getting to know you and to learn from you in the future months.

Claire Roberts Picture

You Still Have the Opportunity to Make It Right! – by Olivia Hayward

A couple of weeks after I had found out that I was the daughter of a narcissistic mother, I had a phone call from an old work colleague. We had only really met each other one time although we worked together for about six years.

We had both flown into the States to attend work for a team building exercise one week. Barbara and I were staying at the same hotel. Barbara had hired a car and as we both liked to get an early start, we rode into work together and came home together each day that we were there.

One day, we went out to get something to drink for when we were back in the hotel. Barbara and I got talking about some deeper stuff as we shopped and drove around in the car. She told me that her mother had as good as abandoned her and her siblings. She had no maternal instincts she confided in me. “She was just plain mean and hurtful to us kids”, she said.

She didn’t say much more, but I always remembered what she had said to me. I had wondered often how a mother could not love their children. I adored my children. They were my life. Barbara also adored her children.

Together, on the phone, I asked Barbara if her mother was narcissistic. As I described some of the things I had learned, I could feel the excitement in her voice. I promised to send her some materials that I had read and she was excited to share them with her siblings who had been in therapy but unable to get to the source of their challenges.

Then Barbara said to me, “You are so lucky. Your mother is still alive and you can get some sort of reconciliation. I can’t get that.” At that moment, my heart sank. Not only was my heart filled with her pain of not having her mother around, for all her unfulfilled desires to be close to her mother, and for all the unresolved issues between her mother and her; but my heart ached for myself because I knew that it was not possible to have reconciliation with my mother – not the type of reconciliation that I longed for.

I gently explained to Barbara that because narcissism was a mental disorder that even if her mother was alive, that there would not be the reconciliation that she longed for. “I won’t get it with my mother either”, I said. “We have to accept that is where they are; that they are unable to be where we want them to be. That is the problem with narcissists, they aren’t able to love us as we want to be loved; they are unable to nurture us.”

In her book, ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough?’, Karyl McBride, who is a therapist and a daughter of a narcissist, wrote about how she had approached her mother about writing the book. She told her that it was about mothers and daughters and how she would love her mother’s input and suggestions. She also asked her for permission to share some personal material. Her mother’s response was ‘Why don’t you write a book about fathers?’

Karyl would have really wanted her mother to ask things like “‘Are there some things we need to discuss or work on together?’ ‘Do you have pain from your childhood?’ ‘Can we heal together?’ None of this happened, but after all those years of my own recovery work, I knew not to expect her to be able to do this empathic inquiry”. (“Will I Ever Be Good Enough”, Karyl McBride page xx).

For Barbara and I, we need to face the facts that:

1. Our yearning for a maternal affection, nourishment, succoring and support is not going to be realized;
2. All our seeking, longing, hankering and desiring for things to be different is not going to change anything.

Barbara was still hoping for change when she said that I still have the opportunity to make things right with my mother. Mother cannot be changed; but we do have the opportunity to make things right for ourselves. The first step is to recognize and understand our mother’s limitations; and then to grieve the impact that they had upon us.

I Am the Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother by Olivia Hayward

Olive Hayward MonogramI am of the opinion that in therapy, one should go from the point one is at and move forwards. I don’t think that dwelling on the past moves one forwards. It has its place, but ruminating on former times can be destructive.

So it was in this frame of mind that I sat across from my therapist and asked her what value talking about the past had. She responded that it can help to find out what the source of our issues are and agreed with me that it can be useful to move a person forwards, but it isn’t a good place to stay.

So feeling satisfied about this, I said ‘Let us go there briefly to say that we have done it.’ I had long felt that I had processed the past and had wrapped it up in a nice little parcel. I didn’t want to waste time or money going through that again when I felt comfortable with my past.

From the time that I was a teenage until I was in my early twenties, I had had a chip on my shoulder about my parents, their behaviours and their treatment of me. I am sure that most children get to an age when they suddenly realize that their parents aren’t the perfect people that we think they are as small children. It came as a great disappointment to me when I got to that age and my parents fell off their pedestal. Moreover, I was dealing with parents that drank two litres of wine or a bottle of Scotch at the weekends; shouted at each other a lot of the time; and were highly critical of us kids and unavailable to us.

As I started into my twenties and I was able to separate myself from them both figuratively and physically, I came to the conclusion that I could still love my parents in spite of their behaviours. I could love them and not what they did. This helped me so much in being able to interact with them more positively. I realized that they were where they were at. We are all on a journey to grow and develop and all of us are at a different point along that spectrum. Understanding my parents within this paradigm helped me to forgive them and to accept them for who they were and to love them genuinely.

I did not want to have to revisit all those painful times in therapy when I had worked through them and felt good with my current perspective. However, I did want to know why I felt so empty and so depressed; so at a loss to make sense of the chaos in the world; why it was so difficult for me to stand up for myself; why I isolated myself from relationships; and why I regularly shut down in conflictual situations.

So the therapist and I started to review the events of my childhood. I spoke in almost a blasé way. As I wound down from my disclosure, my therapist posed the question to me, “Have you ever considered that your parents may be narcissistic? When people drink it can change their brains in a way that they can become narcissistic. Why don’t you check out this website WillIeverbegoodenough.com. “

I didn’t really know much about narcissism. I hadn’t considered it a mental illness. I thought it was when people thought too much about themselves. I never even considered that my parents could be narcissistic. I left the therapist’s office with the intent to look up the website and pushed the idea of my parents having narcissistic tendencies to the back of my head.

About four or five days later, I went onto the website. I found it rather hard to navigate. I read a few articles and then stumbled on one that hit me right between the eyes.

How Does Narcissistic Parenting Affect Children

I readily identified with the child described in this article. (As I plan to look at these traits in more detail in future articles, I won’t go into them at this point in time).

Suddenly the paradigm that I had framed for myself to function within my family started to crumble. I felt like I had had the rug pulled out from underneath my feet. I felt all the emotion that I had kept at bay by throwing myself into busyness descend on me like a ton of bricks.

Although I was pleased that I had finally found the key to my behaviours and the emptiness that I felt inside regarding my life, I was also dismayed at the chaos of emotions that cascaded down upon me. I also felt great guilt in pointing the finger at my mother as the cause of my dysfunctional self. I knew that it was my mother that was the narcissist in my life and my father probably drank as a way of coping. How hard is it to have to talk about one’s own mother in this way? How hard is it to know that the one person in your life who is supposed to support you and love you unconditionally was emotionally and psychologically abusing you?

Karyl McBride said “Being raised by a narcissistic parent is emotionally and psychologically abusive and causes debilitating, long-lasting effects to children. It is often missed by professionals, because narcissists can be charming in their presentation, displaying an image of how they wish to be seen. Behind closed doors, the children feel the suffocation of self and struggle with loneliness and pain. The narcissist is not accountable for their own mistakes or behavior, so the child believes they are to blame and that they flunked childhood.”

It took about three weeks for me start to figure out how I was going to interact with my mother again. I came to the conclusion that as this was a mental disorder, that I should treat my mother with kindness and respect. I was able to draw upon my prior paradigm again. I could still love my mother in spite of her behaviours. I love her – not what she does. She is where she is at.

This is what I shall use as I learn to find alternative ways of interacting with my mother. It is what I shall use when her behaviours provide the stimulus to my anger and to the feelings of not being good enough. Now I can learn to understand with new eyes, what behaviours are destructive, perhaps why my mother uses these behaviours and how I can heal from them even while being continuously subjected to them.

The journey of healing may be long and arduous. At this point in time, I don’t know what this journey looks like. But I am willing to share what I learn even though I feel vulnerable and overshadowed by the feelings of ‘Not being good enough’.

Olivia Hayward Signature

Olivia Hayward

My good friend, Olivia Hayward, has agreed to write a few blog posts for us. I have known Olivia for a number of years. I mentioned to her that I was working on learning some tools in therapy to conquer the issues that I face in the work place. She shared with me that she too was recently in therapy and had just learned that her issues were derivative of being a daughter of a narcissistic mother. She was willing to share with us her journey as she starts to understand this phenomena and how to move forwards.

I am so excited to hear from Olivia and am grateful to her for her willingness to share her thoughts and feelings! Welcome to Once Upon A Wren, Olivia!

Olive Hayward Monogram